Tuesday, December 4, 2012


New Romance: A Practicum for the Living

If you're looking to suss a fling from a partner, a fantastic early date is hitting up a cemetery to visit your dead mother. Because it’s not like they’re meeting at Thanksgiving, and it moves along a subconscious effort to both sabotage a new romantic relationship and forcibly resolve an old family one. That's my outlook on intimacy, anyway.

It was three months after my mother died of complications from a 20-year struggle with multiple sclerosis. She hadn't walked, or spoken coherently, in years. It ended badly in May. Come August, I found myself in — among the frayed nerves, fear of death, unresolved grief and anger — a relationship. And somewhere between falling in love and trying to function, I decided "now" was the best time to visit her grave. It was partly to get it over with. We’d done the math: she was dead. Put up the headstone and let's forget it happened. And because subconsciously I didn't want to love anyone, ever, I asked my new boyfriend to come, presenting it somewhat like a day trip to an upstate winery. "Lemme show you how unsavory my gene pool is, and, by extension, how truly vile I am as a mate, daughter, and person, and you can bail early before I really start loving you. And then we can get lunch." Really, this was some weird private performance designed to keep my one-woman show as-is. I didn't want a boyfriend around, and I didn't need a mother to remember.

A train and a cab ride later, we arrived at the cemetery office, which looked like a hybrid 1980s bank and Rapid Realty office (in terms of new real estate matters, realty and mortality are similarly cyclical business models). Behind bulletproof glass, a yarmulked man printed me a map of the massive Beth David Cemetery with my mother’s Jewish name on it and the intersection at which she now resided: Unit H6, between Joshua and Benjamin, talk a left at Mechla ... something. There was a mile-long walk to where she was buried, and I was with my boyfriend of a month, and I was wearing snakeskin heels, and I kept thinking, "This is such a good decision." Soundtrack to the situation’s gravity was the Mister Softee truck’s jingle on Elmont Avenue, drifting over in mocking perpetuity. 

At first, we couldn’t find her. And then Jared called my name while I leaned on a Rosenfeld, examining the map of H6. My stomach turned. I lumbered  over, my heels squishing into the earth. I saw my grandmother and grandfather’s name on a headstone.

Wait. Waaait. I know them. If they were here, then. Um.

Yeah. Next to the headstone, Jared stood above a foot high mound of dirt.

She was here. Why didn't I think she was here?

My plan to break free of him, break free of her, ended when I saw that dirt. There was a plastic sign at the head of the mound with her name. I planned to be detached, poetic, maybe let a single tear shimmer in the August sun. I planned to make it quick. I also planned to never shit at a guy’s apartment. But, so to speak, I shit in front of him, right there.

When I saw that dirt, I climbed down to her. She moved into my heart, my stomach, my fingers. I grabbed the dirt, I wanted to go so deep down that I might be under there. I held the dirt, I held her. My friend Dan once said when his father was dying, he crawled into the hospital bed and held him with naked love. I thought that was creepy; I never understood that until I was there, in the sun, leaves sticking to my knees. I never saw her, loved her, as much as I did then. I curled into her, breathing in the fine late summer heat and the dust and feeling so, so sorry I didn't comfort her when I could, when she actually needed me to.

I got up after a while. I sat on my grandmother's headstone but I didn't talk to her. I listened to the ice cream truck. Jared sat and smoked over in H5. I could have stayed there all day, in this other life. But H6 isn't going anywhere, and neither is she. Something is there all day long, all forever long. After the sun goes down, and the ice cream truck pulls away, I imagine that it’s quiet. At least from what we can understand.

I turned back to Jared. He was still there, found her before I tripped on her. I wanted to ask him things — who he was. If he could really tell how terrible I was during her life, if it mattered that he'd never see photos of my mother and I together because I didn't want to be near her. Remind him I'm not normal, or kind, and beg him to leave me. Ask if he knew we’d both die, maybe not together, and whether he’d care. Instead, I asked what he did when he saw her. He stubbed his cigarette. "I just said ‘Hi.’"

He also admitted later that night that he had been craving curly fries from a diner, but hadn't thought it was appropriate to say so. Sometimes it's easy to love someone, for them to fall simply into your heart. You find yourself ready. My mother fell right into mine, ironically late. Jared fell right in. My parents fell at a bar in 1971. We have so little time with them; I suppose it’s more efficient that way.

Writer and photographer Nadine Friedman's work can be found on Nona Brooklyn, F***Ed in Park SlopeBrokeAss Stuart, and Biographile. She's currently compiling photographic portraits and biographies of individuals living with MS.

66 Comments / Post A Comment

hahahaha, ja.

This is so intense and vulnerable, it feels almost cathartic. Luckily it's lunch time so no one can see my crying at my desk. Between this and the wedding piece from earlier today, I am getting all sorts of dehydrated.


The first place I went when I got my driver's license 8 years ago was to visit my mother's grave - in a tiny cemetery in the middle of corn fields - all alone. I had been there before, a few times, but less so over the years and definitely not after my father got remarried.

I had never before cried so hard in my life as I did that day. It was the first time I was alone with her since two days before she died, when she'd called me into her bedroom and asked me to brush her hair for her, she was too weak to do it herself. I cried because I had to wait 6 years to get that back, those quiet moments with just my mother.

Your description of wanting to join her, the transformation your body and soul felt at that moment... that is exactly how I felt as I was digging my nails into my mother's grave dirt too. Thank you for the cathartic read and for sharing something so close to you.

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@Gussie that is an amazing thing to share, thank you. I am so grateful for that moment... which I still also feel like sht about... such is life.


Grief is a funny old thing. My granny would have been 92 today, I remembered last night. She's been gone for a few years and of course it doesn't compare to losing a mother, but it still hit me in the guts.
I'm glad the guy turned out to not make it worse.


"After the sun goes down, and the ice cream truck pulls away, I imagine that it’s quiet. At least from what we can understand."

Reading that sentence, my heart kind of, I don't know, crashed, and for some reason this makes me think of St. Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans, how it felt, how it looked. And how my great-grandma's grave looked, 1000 miles away. Quiet in the middle of a big city.

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@TheMnemosyne beautifully put.


This is gorgeous writing.


Thank you for this. It is beautiful.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

"She moved into my heart, my stomach, my fingers. I grabbed the dirt, I wanted to go so deep down that I might be under there."

Thank you for this. I so often forget that grief is a full-body emotion, that it takes over entirely for moments. As a person who is in preparative grief - hoping for the best but emotionally prepping for the worst so I don't spontaneously dissolve if my dad loses his battle with cancer and my girlfriend truly doesn't love me - your essay feels so honest it hurts.

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose I am sending you good vibes for your family and your heart. I still feel like shit about giving a shit too lte; I am in awe of those who are in touch with their feelings in time.


Oh fuck.

I don't even have words for what this is pulling up for me, and I don't know where it's coming from, but fuck.

oh! valencia

Hugest lump in my throat right now. Wow.


Oh, this broke my heart. We recently lost my father-in-law and there was a moment there towards the end where I thought to myself, this is it. I told my husband we should just climb right into bed with him and hold his hands and just not leave until it was over, until he was gone from this world. We didn't, because he sort of perked up and got out of bed. He died the next day, though. I so wish I had just climbed on in and hung on.

Every time I drive near the cemetery where he's buried, I think, he's there! He's right in there. Why is he in there? How could we leave him...there? He's alone, and he's cold...I miss him so much.

Sincere condolences to you, Nadine, on your loss. It's all too easy to look back with regrets. Be gentle with yourself.

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@MrsNesbitt I had no idea of any of the very physical things that went along with losing her. Long illness is like watching the clock, and then you're done, and then... what? dunno. feels weird. I'm sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your story.

Jen Kiaba

This kind of ripped my heart out. Like right where all of my fears reside. Beautifully done. Thank you

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@Jen Kiaba thank YOU! everything works out.


Reminder to myself: in your next life, don't read this during a time of family turmoil, while sitting in a library.

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@Fflora Sending you good vibes during what sounds like a rough time; also, libraries are GREAT for moments. Very cinema.


This made my chest hurt. My best friend doesn't have a grave, because she was cremated and then we put her ashes in the ocean in Hawaii, so there's no one place to go visit (unless I have the money and time to go back to those coordinates by boat someday), but going all the places where she isn't anymore kind of feels like going to her grave.

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@frigwiggin THAT made me cry. I hope you have some peace about your loss; it sounds like a beautiful tribute.


This is gutwrenching in the best of ways. Oh, wow.


I fell in love while my mother was dying. This piece just ate me from the inside out, in a kind of lovely and reassuring way.

sania khan

gud writer........

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This is beautiful writing.

It's such a weird topic for me, though. I'm extremely fortunate that in 38 years I've never lost someone important to me. And while I'm certainly grateful, there's a universal part of the human experience that I've never faced, which puts a gulf between me and other people. I have no idea how to relate to others when they go through it, and this bothers me because empathizing and comforting people in hard times is so central to my being. Plus, the more time passes, the more terrified I am of what it will be like when it ultimately happens to me.

These are weird feelings, and I want to talk about them but it feels wrong to talk about them because they're nothing compared to losing a loved one. I don't mean to complain, because I know I'm lucky. And I don't mean to rub it in the face of anyone who has gone through this pain. I just don't want to keep these thoughts bouncing around in my head anymore so here they are.


Ohh, this was so wonderful, Nadine. Thank you so much. My mom died suddenly but of a most-of-my-life-long illness when I was 22, and I've had so many of these feelings, and you articulated them so beautifully.

It is amazing how people think relationships end at death. They don't.

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@jetztinberlin i am so sorry to hear you lost her so early. I hope you're in a place that is healing and happy.


I've been trying to comment on this for two days to say how much I loved this piece. It feels like a kiss blown to all us grievers out here.

I relate too well to "somewhere between falling in love and trying to function." I am still in love with that same person, but death is hovering again and I am feeling many of those relentless feelings flooding back.

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@ohnoohno i hear you. warmest heart vibes on all you decide, do, feel.


@ohnoohno Double comment, ahoy.

Queen Elisatits

do you know how hard it is to cry and be a receptionist at the same time? "Welcome to Sad Building Everybody!"

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@Queen Elisatits i LOVE crying at desks. it honestly makes the day go by faster. just do it before lunch, bc then people will bring you back dark chocolate. swear.

Manchester Tart

Very late to this, but wanted to thank you for it. I had a long post all planned out about what I'm going through at the moment, and similarities and blah blah, but none of that matters really, just wanted to thank you for a powerful and moving piece. And I'm glad Jared could be there for you.

Nadine Friedman@facebook

@Manchester Tart Thank YOU. It was a moment of shame and regret and all sorts of shit, but I'm glad it happened. I wish you the best with what you're dealing with.

Amir Khatri@facebook

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I am so looking forward to having them back. At least then I can get down to sorting medical records. Didn’t I say that I always work better when there are people around creating distractions?.
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